May 5, 2020
Produce technology adapted to sanitize N95 masks amid COVID-19 pandemic

Keith Warriner is a food scientist, but when he heard about the shortage of N95 masks for front-line health-care workers battling COVID-19, he saw an opportunity to contribute.

Warriner and several collaborators have adapted technology that uses UV light, hydrogen peroxide and ozone to decontaminate fruits, vegetables and food packaging to help in the fight against COVID-19. Their previous work was partly funded by the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between U of G and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

Warriner saw the potential to modify the existing technology to decontaminate N95 masks and make them reusable – a significant contribution during a time when personal protective equipment such as these masks is in short supply.

“Not many changes were needed – lemons have the same crevices and pores as mask materials. In fact, it’s easier to decontaminate a mask than it is a lemon,” he said.

Post-doctoral researcher Mahdiyeh Hasani modified the sanitation process by creating a special holder and optimizing the hydrogen peroxide concentration and treatment times.

Warriner and Hasani worked with Clean Works, a company in Beamsville, Ont., to develop a portable system that can be taken to health-care facilities. Akin to running objects through an airport X-ray machine, items are inserted at one end and come out clean at the other, meaning masks do not have to be decontaminated in smaller batches.

After two weeks of research and testing with Clean Works, the National Research Council, Health Canada and Toronto Paramedic Services (which helped with fit testing), the modified units, called Clean Flow Healthcare Mini, were approved by Health Canada. The first units have already been shipped to hospitals.

Along with Profs. Ryan Prosser, School of Environmental Sciences, and David Lubitz, School of Engineering, Warriner has partnered with Clean Works since 2015 to market the waterless cleaning system for its original purpose: decontaminating fruits and vegetables. He credits fruit farmer Paul Moyer and CEO Mark VanderVeen, both of Clean Works, with the original vision of marketing this innovative decontamination technology to fruit and vegetable growers.

“It’s the perfect example of how industry, academia and government work together,” says Warriner. “Without funding from OMAFRA, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Clean Works technology is being used for fruit and vegetable decontamination across Ontario and California for crops including apples, peaches and table grapes.

This research was also supported by OMAFRA’s Food Safety Research Program, Moyers Apple Products Ltd. and Court Holdings Ltd.

–  The Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, University of Guelph

Objects are inserted into one end of the Clean Flow Healthcare Mini and come out clean at the other, meaning masks do not have to be decontaminated in smaller batches. Photo: University of Guelph


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